By the time you read this column, I will be packing up every other weekend or so and traveling to Catholic home schooling conferences all over the United States. Faithful readers may realize that I am breaking my own rule of strictly limiting activities that bring home schooling moms outside the home and take us away from our home schooling. Why are Catholic home schooling conferences so important that I am willing to break rule #1, and why should parents who are deciding whether or not to take the plunge, as well as old-time home educators, attend one?
Clearly those who are just considering the possibility of teaching their children at home would benefit from learning first-hand how it works and what options are available. A frequently-heard newbie objection to home education, often offered by dad and extended family, is that by denying students socialization experiences in brick and mortar schools, they will somehow turn out socially warped. At conferences the Doubting Thomases get a chance to meet actual home schooled children and be really impressed by them. I have been teaching my own children for 18 years, but I never fail to be awed when I meet other home schooled students. They are routinely clear thinking, and mature in virtue beyond their years. Even better, they seem blessedly detached from the everyday preoccupations—popularity, partying, “hooking up,” fashions, sports, and the like, that seem to dominate children in institutional schools at earlier and earlier ages. Our children are the home schooling movement’s best advertisement.
Some novice parents are rightly concerned about their children’s academic future. No one wants to cheat a young person out of an education or the chance to attend college. At home schooling conferences, they will have an opportunity to meet experienced home school parents and hear their success stories. I am often able to reassure worried parents myself by sharing my own experience. I have had children graduate from institutional schools and four daughters have graduated from Seton. The process of getting all of them into college was identical, and all received scholarships based on merit.
All the conferences feature a vendor hall with representatives from the Catholic home school curriculum providers, Catholic book stores, and other providers of curriculum and religious materials. This is an ideal opportunity to review the books and lesson plans first-hand, and not just settle for a description in a catalog or on the Internet. Many hard-to-find books, especially religious books not commonly found in community bookstores and local libraries, are available for parents to examine and purchase. Parents can meet owners and staff members of schools and other organizations. What a great opportunity to ask company representatives specific questions about your family’s unique situation!
Not all the merchandise is educational. Conferences are wonderful locations to buy gifts for first sacraments, birthdays or early Christmas gifts. You have a chance to stock-up on rosaries, holy water fonts, religious art, and other sacramentals. Many times a priest is even on location and available to bless the items. Save money by taking advantage of conference discounts and eliminating shipping costs!
What about seasoned home schoolers, like me? Why do we organize and attend conferences when we made our home schooling decision long ago, and are comfortable with our curriculum?
For many, the highlight of Catholic home schooling conferences is the chance to hear inspiring talks on a variety of topics. Most conferences are scheduled from March to July. Since the majority of conferences occur near the end of the school year, parents mention getting that extra bit of encouragement, that shot-in-the-arm needed to complete the current school year, or to build up enthusiasm for the next year. Aside from being frequent lecturers at conferences, priests often offer Holy Mass, hear Confessions, and are available for spiritual direction.
Others say they return year-after-year to visit with old friends, or to meet new ones; conferences are wonderful places to network with like-minded parents. Many conference organizers print name tags with the home town listed under the attendee’s name, giving parents an opportunity to locate others in their area, and to learn about local support group activities. Some add the number of years they have been home schooling or print “new” to help find each other. Some conferences have book swaps or used book sales which allow cash-strapped parents to stock up.
Many parents car pool with support group or family members, allowing them to save a few bucks and to enjoy the company. If the nearest conference is several hours away, your support group might consider renting a bus and bringing a group. Many conferences have special room rates at local hotels blocked in advance for their event. Perhaps a conference is close to where your parents or in-laws live. If so, consider bringing them along too. The Catholic materials they will see at a conference will open their eyes to a whole new world. This is wonderful time spent together, as well as a gentle way to introduce your extended family to home schooling!
Families who do not live close to a conference site sometimes make a family vacation out of it, especially in June at annual national Immaculate Heart of Mary Conference near Washington, D.C. While Mom goes to the conference, Dad takes the children to see the local attractions, or vice versa.
Is there a conference coming up near you? Keep an eye on the Seton website (www.setonhome.org). On the left side of the home page you will see a link, Catholic home schooling conferences: Upcoming dates and locations. Click on that and you will not only find out dates and locations, but also be referred to the conference organizers’ websites for more detailed information. Closer to the conference dates, upcoming conference information is listed in the Seton monthly newsletter, which is available to everyone on-line.
Finally, if there is just no way you will be able to attend, you may still enjoy some of the benefits of a Catholic home education conference. Many sell tapes or CD’s of the major speakers. This is a great way for you to get some insight into spiritual or educational issues at home while you jog or do your dishes. Check out the conference website for details. (For tapes from last year’s national Immaculate Heart of Mary Conference, go to www.ihmconference.org.)
If you are able to attend a conference where I am speaking or manning a Seton table, please come up and introduce yourself. I love meeting our Seton families.
Tip of the Month
If your family follows the conventional September to June school year, and you enrolled in August or September, all of your students should be finished with Quarter 2 and well into the 3rd Quarter by the time you receive this newsletter. If you have fallen seriously behind, now is the time to call a Seton counselor. A counselor can help you decide where you can safely take short cuts and how you can motivate your children. There is never an extra charge for a counselor call. If you live overseas, cannot afford a toll call, or do not remember until midnight, feel free to email our counseling department for help.